This is part 1 of a series on how to deliver a proper apology – even if it’s an accident.
A common expression parents teach young children to express remorse, wrongdoing, and to engender forgiveness.
In fact, Canadians say “sorry” so much that in 2009 several provinces introduced a law, aptly titled The Apology Act, which stipulates that an apology made by or on behalf of a person in connection with any matter, does not constitute an express or implied admission of fault or liability by the person or entity in connection with that matter.
Despite this act being a tad comical, it has practical implications – for everyone in the world. Especially for companies, government agencies, or non-profits, when apologizing or expressing remorse can also mean admitting guilt or wrongdoing.
Depending on the situation, it may be beneficial to take responsibility for the action, words, omission or whatever misdeed led to the need to apologize. For example, Mark Zuckerberg took ownership for overspending and underestimating loss in revenue that led to the termination of 11,000 of Meta’s staff.
This approach worked for Zuckerberg because he provided next steps in how the company would assist those who were laid off. Sometimes the best thing to do is accept that a mistake was made and try to mitigate repercussions for those affected.
Lawyers will want you to consider the legal implications of apologizing and if, like in Canada, it can be taken as confessing responsibility.
While legalities are important, so too are the implications that admitting guilt can have for an organization’s reputation.
Below are some key steps to take when apologizing for wrongdoing, or even an accident, to help maintain good relations with key stakeholders, without explicitly admitting guilt.
- Assess the damage. It is important to have a good understanding of what transpired and why, who was involved, who was affected, and what other parties have knowledge that will be vital to address the issue.
- Be transparent. While not every situation will enable full disclosure (i.e., proprietary secrets or protecting the identities of those involved), it is important to be honest and open with the communications you disclose. Remember Benjamin Franklin’s famous expression: “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”
- Act fast. Once comprehensive, factual details about what has happened have been gathered, it is vital that information comes from the organization and not from the media; the first external communication following the crisis is a well-thought-out response that resonates with the publics.
- Responding to worries and feedback. Instead of arguing publicly, acknowledge people’s concerns and questions and respond to the right conversations. Key stakeholders will want more details, so try to think about their perspective when responding.
- Have a plan and review it often. Monitor the situation, reactions and re-evaluate. If new facts are revealed, update key stakeholders. Similarly, monitoring their reactions in traditional and social media will help adjust how to approach the continued response.
- Future steps. Communicate how policies will be put in place so the event doesn’t happen again. Outline the steps that will be taken to address the problem, attend to those affected, and assure key stakeholders they can continue to hold trust in the organization.
Delivering an apology can be a difficult and nuanced task. Following the tips above will help build a solid foundation and can make the world of difference between having a situational issue and a crisis on your hands. If additional assistance is needed, our team has over 23 years of experience in crisis communications and can become part of your preparedness plan for 2023 and beyond.